What 50 Years of Hip Hop Can Teach Us About... Everything.
...starting with the journalism industry. Plus, links to inspiring and insightful Hip Hop fueled stories and events.
🏢 $10k Hip Hop Architecture Camp scholarship applications open for High School Seniors of color
🎤 It’s the Diggy Diggy D.O.C. y’all
📙 NEW BOOK: The Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Dance Studies
📰 How artists and influencers set the stage for Hip-Hop's global rise
📗 NEW BOOK: “‘Revolutionary’ Pillars Of Wellbeing And Happiness” by stic of dead prez
Giant new sculpture of Biggie by the Brooklyn Bridge
🎤 Mickey Factz’ new “Hip Hop Academy”
📸 [REVIEW] Fotografiska New York exhibition: “Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious”
⌚ A Year-Long Exploration of Bay Area Hip-Hop History
🤑 This guy made $500k rapping on Fiverr.com
⚖️ Violent Gang, or Rap Label? Prosecutors Say Young Thug’s YSL Is Both.
🤖 Hold Up, How Did Hip-Hop Become A Trailblazer in VR?
💿 Skyzoo Loves Snowfall So Much He Made an Entire Album About It
📝 FROM THE E-DESK OF MANNY FACES
Hey all. Let’s do some quickies here too!
I’ll be in Newark this Friday, Feb. 3 as part of my birthday weekend celebration tour. Catch the Brick City Comedy Revue with me spinning a special guest DJ set after the show.
The next night in Brooklyn (Feb. 4), I’m back with the dopest band in the land, The Band Called FUSE at Starr Bar in mighty Brooklyn! Featured artists, cyphers and jams, it’s always an amazing time. (I hear it’s gonna be cold. Let’s warm each other up!)
Next week, I’m back in ATL, presenting a talk at Beyond The Culture II: Black Popular Culture and Social Justice.
On that note, I’m booking speaking engagement dates all through 2023, giving lectures and presentations about how Hip Hop music and culture can help uplift humanity. Go here for more information!
Also, I make top tier podcasts! One of them just won another big award. If you want to know more about how to make podcasts (you should!… Maybe.), visit my company www.mannyfacesmedia.com or just hit me up!
Later in this newsletter: “What 50 Years of Hip Hop Can Teach the Journalism Industry”
🏛️ Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture exhibition (ATL) Through May 15, 2023 - Discussion with curator Sekou Cooke, Feb. 23 -
🧥 EXHIBITION: Fresh, Fly, Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style - Exhibition at The Museum at FIT (NYC) Feb. 8 through April 23 - Symposium, Feb. 24
📸 Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious photo exhibition (NYC) through May 21
🤴 Hip Hop Cinderella, New Victory Theater (NYC) Feb. 18 through Feb 26
🏫 Aspire2Higher Hip Hop IS Higher Ed Symposium - March 30 & 31
🪡 Subversive Cross Stitch: Hip-Hop Heartbreak Edition (ATL)
🗣️ Dr. Joycelyn Wilson on Preserving Atlanta's Early Hip-Hop History (REMOTE) March 2
SEND ME NEWS ITEMS AND EVENT INFO TO email@example.com
The latest episode of the world’s most important podcast features DIY entrepreneur superstar, A. V. Perkins. Her ‘disrespectful party game for Hip Hop lovers’ recently catapulted into the zeitgeist by landing on Target shelves, nationwide. Find out more about A.V. and University of Dope on YouTube or listen as a podcast!
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💭 THE MANNYFESTO
What 50 Years of Hip Hop Can Teach The Journalism Industry
Recently, a social justice journalism podcast in which I play a major role as co-producer, audio editor, and host, won the Bronze prize in the News & Politics category of the inaugural Signal Awards, tied with international journalism powerhouse, Al Jazeera. Other winners across the board included HBO Max and Netflix, and podcast giants like Pushkin Industries.
This is remarkable for several reasons, not the least of which is that our show News Beat infuses original, lyrical contributions from Hip Hop artists into the episodes, poignantly and emphatically emphasizing the story being told by experts, journalists, and folks directly affected by injustice.
In other words, out of likely dozens of submissions from major journalism outlets, one of the top picks was a news show with rappers all up in it.
It’s not the first time. We’ve actually won many awards, including the top honor at the New York Press Club journalism awards – twice! This would mean we beat out The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other major news players in the New York area. It’s pretty stunning, but to be fair, the journalism part of the show is top tier, as good as anything out there. The music and performances are exceptional icing on an already dope cake.
I often include the work I do with News Beat in presentations about Hip Hop’s evolving role in the fight for social justice, and I use it not to toot my own horn, but to demonstrate the power of Hip Hop as a powerful conduit of information. To me, Hip Hop can BE journalism, evidenced by our unique and groundbreaking podcast format, but also historically as Chuck D. once famously anointed it, “the CNN of the ghetto.”
The negative public perception cloud that Hip Hop is constantly under often obfuscates its power to tell these stories in ways that are unparalleled in popular media. It’s why Hip Hop culture has gone global, and has exerted some influence in nearly every industry and aspect of human life on the planet, including directly in social justice and political movements. Pushing back against Hip Hop’s bad reputation is for another time, but News Beat’s impressive showing among journalism contemporaries should be enough to convince even rap music’s most ardent detractors that Hip Hop can deliver compelling, powerful, important messages that will resonate with many, many people.
As President Barack Obama states during the intro to the Hip-Hop Can Save America! podcast:
The thing about Hip Hop today is, it’s smart. It’s insightful. The way that they can communicate a complex message in a very short space, is remarkable. And, a lot of these kids, they’re not gonna be reading The New York Times. That’s not how they’re getting their information.
While the ways they are getting their information – social media, less journalistically sound bloggers and influencers, and a few outspoken celebrities – aren’t always the best sources, the success of News Beat shows that news – actual news – journalism with integrity, can reach folks who don’t necessarily consume it in its traditional forms.
And before we assume that this all might only be well-suited to reach so-called minorities, remember that each year more and more Americans decide to actively avoid traditional “news,” and that for ALL Americans under 30, Hip Hop remains the most listened to genre in America.
So in an increasingly topsy-turvy journalism landscape, we have a tool, and at the very least, a mindset that can help us develop new ways to engage Americans about the information that they desperately need to remain an informed citizenry.
With all of this in mind, here are a few takeaways for the journalism industry, inspired not only by News Beat, but 50 years of Hip Hop music and culture.
Formats change. Adopt change early and often.
I used to work for the 6th largest weekly newspaper in America. It no longer exists, at least not as a newspaper. I personally led efforts that staved off its death by converting it to a hybrid and then all digital format, early enough in the print-to-digital craze that it extended our publishing lives for a bit. Of course, even that ingenuity couldn’t grant us immortality in a drastically changing journalism landscape, and eventually, the business was sold off to live out the rest of its days a shell of its former self.
We were actually lucky. Many other outlets, some huge, just died. No evolution. No rebirth. Just dead.
Hip Hop has evolved through formatting changes as well. In the beginning, rap music escaped the walls of Bronx nightclubs and pollinated the globe via cassette tape. This evolved along with the rest of the music industry into CDs, and then .zip files transmitted across peer to peer networks. But just looking at the history of the mixtape phenomenon, we can see just how uniquely ingenious Hip Hop entrepreneurs were, adopting and adapting formats to create an entire music industry while skirting the actual music industry.
When anti-sampling laws began to limit musical sources, it became harder for Hip Hop artists to release music quickly. In addition, savvy artists wanted to release their songs on their timeline, not when a record label dictated. These voids would be filled by DJs who were already creating compilations of commercially released music, as they could now be fed unofficial releases directly from the artists themselves. Samples galore! Record label timelines be damned!
This side industry grew to massive proportions, leaving the traditional music business scrambling to counteract massive revenue being siphoned away from their clutches, eventually leading to FBI raids of major mixtape DJ CD manufacturing dens. Ultimately, if you connect the right dots, this period is a foundational factor in the technological shift that would lead to the decline of the traditional music business models and the rise of streaming services, Soundcloud rap, and the new independent creator economy.
One might imagine how having this type of Hip Hop-inspired, adapt-or-die mindset helped me in my path from production manager of a floundering newspaper to award-winning digital media director and then pivoting hard to now create world-class podcasts. In fact, News Beat is a direct offshoot of that newspaper, led by the former publisher, researched and reported by a couple of exceptional journalists, and myself holding down musical and production duties, thanks in part to my background as a DJ.
We foresaw that when paired together, these worlds could combine to do what Hip Hop has always done – tell stories, provide visceral documentation, deliver diverse perspectives, and hold the attention of millions of people – in a way that could truly affect change, uplift traditionally squelched voices, and sound pretty damn good while doing it.
It's not the first time I personally helped innovate the news industry (more on that if you ask me), but clearly, this early, welcoming and fearless adoption of new formats has been quite successful. The awards are nice, of course, but a real proof of impact are the educators who have reported back to us that they have incorporated our work into their curriculum.
A news program, with a bunch of rappers all up in it, winning journalism awards, and being welcomed by teachers and students alike as an educational tool.
Surprising? Not for those who understand Hip Hop.
Newsroom Diversity Doesn’t Just Mean Hiring Reporters of Color
For years, discussions have been bouncing around corporate conference rooms about the best ways to increase diversity in the workplace, create a more welcoming and inclusive culture, and make employees feel like they belong. While this may sound like a worthwhile, better-late-than-never endeavor, there are mixed feelings about the effectiveness of what has blossomed into a $3.4 billion industry.
This isn’t the place to fully dissect this issue. What I will say is that it’s pretty clear that hiring a person of color, but not fully welcoming or engaging with the ideas formed by their particular culture, environment, or perspectives, is not doing anyone any good. I wonder just how often a news organization, realizing its lack of staff diversity (and the public pressure to atone for those sins), adds a few hires of color, only to push back against ideas that they might bring to the table, or uncomfortable truths they might wish to address.
This happens everywhere. Just ask Jarrod Carmichael.
I can’t even imagine how it must be for non-white folks who come into an organization, encouraged by its proclaimed dedication to diversity and inclusivity, and end up wondering if their purpose was really more as a way for the organization to dodge continued scrutiny.
Looking at a bunch of major journalism outlets over the past few years, some of which have been called out for their lack of diversity in the past, the landscape doesn’t necessarily look that much different. There are still plenty of folks calling out the industry for its egregious lack of racial and ethnic diversity.
Legacy institutions are often saddled with the reputation of being unable or unwilling to adapt to a quickly-changing society. Just diving full force into podcasting is hard enough for many of these organizations to wrap their heads around, as evidenced by the fact that for the most part, aside from NPR proper, traditional organizations really aren’t at the cutting edge of the medium. Not to mention, many are just learning how to authentically center the issues, voices and talents of people of color.
If you ask me, News Beat recognizing and using Hip Hop AS journalism is an example of the right type of diverse thinking. Forward-thinking approaches, authentic incorporation of talent and voices from diverse backgrounds, and a purposeful mandate to center the voices of folks who are either directly facing injustice or those who are actively fighting the good fight.
No opposing talking heads battling it out to create Mediaite worthy soundbites. No punditry-filled opinion pieces, not when it comes to these life and death situations. Just well-researched, well-presented, well-produced episodes that we like to say sound like Democracy Now! and Black Thought from The Roots had a podcast baby! (or like Democracy Now! and Hamilton had a podcast baby, for the folks who aren’t sure who Black Thought is.)
Journalism organizations must adopt this vision of diversity, and fully embrace it. Hiring a more diverse staff – particularly on the executive level – is paramount, but so is looking outside of the traditional media industry for new people and new ideas.
Remember, there was a time when radio execs and prominent Black DJs wouldn’t allow rap music on the radio. Even though they were from the same communities from where rap and Hip Hop culture was blooming, they failed to value its significance. These industry veterans were victims of the same biases that kept their Black musician predecessors from appearing on those very same airwaves.
Institutionalism breeds comfort, and biased institutionalism breeds biased comfort. It’s the reason why Black cops can end up being prejudiced against Black citizens. Journalism has suffered multiple defeats at the hands of technological evolution in recent decades, as evidenced by those newspapers, radio and TV stations that no longer exist. Organizations must purposefully and dramatically seek to break out of their comfort zones and welcome change that FULLY embraces all forms of diversity, or the industry will continue to decline in importance and profitability.
There are stories in places you don’t like to look (or don’t even try)
There is a running lamentation among many older Hip Hop music fans, noting the prevalence of “emo rap” these days – songs with lyrics that refer to themes such as depression, death, drug use as a form of self-medication, etc.
“We used to rap about selling drugs. Now all they rap about is taking drugs!” many have said.
The problematic-in-its-own-right implication there is that there is something wrong / soft / corny / weak about “today’s Hip Hop” and by extension, today’s youth.
As before, correcting the misconception that these themes are all that rap has to offer is out of the scope of this piece (though I’ll gladly engage anyone about this, anytime). The point here is that I, as well as several mental health professionals who incorporate Hip Hop and other influences from popular culture into their therapy methodology, recognize that the real concern here is for the mental health of these young artists and those who relate to their music. After all, what some older, hardened folks view as weakness, many now recognize as a call for help.
Journalists are best when they uncover hidden truths, report on under-reported stories, amplify under-represented voices. Some of these stories are easy enough to find, if there is the desire to cover such issues, and despite a greater sense permeating society that media can’t be trusted, many journalists and outlets continue to do outstanding, important work.
Still, we all have our biases. After all, the folks who overlook the pain and suffering that young people are demonstrating through their musical choices used to be fans of the same genre. They are from the same communities. They have agency and a vested interest in the well-being of their young people. And yet, they miss the real story.
This year’s award-winning episode of News Beat focuses on the ongoing, under-reported crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people in the United States and Canada. Listening to legal experts, activists and family members, you will hear one overarching lamentation: It happens in our community all the time, but we’ll never get anywhere near the media coverage that they had for Gabby Petito.
In a cutthroat media business with little room for lost readership or viewership, these are the kinds of corporate decisions that will be made. Luckily, the uptick in independent journalism via newsletter services and podcasts, as well as a blossoming nonprofit news sector could be effective in countering the disappointing reality in the media business that made our episode necessary.
An increasingly diverse country needs not only equity in hiring, but equity in coverage.
Oh, and one more thing. Covering Hip Hop is not as simple as some think.
This one is dedicated to mainstream media that covers aspects of Hip Hop music and culture.
The people that some think represent the true depth of Hip Hop music and culture are often not the culture’s best representatives. They may be the most recognizable. They may be the only ones you’ve heard of. But they very often are not the ones who should be providing quotes or insight as to Hip Hop’s wider cultural value.
This is a larger, Inside Baseball style of criticism that I, and a lot of folks, have regarding how the media covers Hip Hop. In one of my talks, I break down how such coverage:
Leans toward “negative” sentiment
Contains egregiously incorrect information
Quotes or interviews less-than-fully-qualified representatives
Relies on celebrity or corporate-controlled figures for commentary
Ignores or diminishes stories of cultural importance
Includes biased, bigoted or fully racist coverage or commentary
Generally lacks nuance
It remains troubling how a social, cultural and artistic movement as large and influential as Hip Hop could be treated with such contempt by the journalism industry at large. Journalists who wish to learn how to better cover Hip Hop music and culture are welcomed to inquire within.
This is just a starting point. There are countless, more general lessons that can be applied to the journalism industry that are applicable for ALL sectors of business. Stay tuned for that breakdown.
Manny Faces offers presentations and consultation on ways to help diversify many industries, including journalism, the innovation and inspiration found in and around Hip Hop culture. To find out more, and to book Manny for your organization, visit www.mannyfaces.com
Words I Mannyfest is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I am excited to dig into KQED's Bay Area hip hop history series. Looks so dope!